Short-Handed Rockets lose overtime thriller in Portland

Brian Barefield | 12/27/2020, 6 a.m.

The Houston Rockets knew earlier in the week that their delayed open to the 2020-21 NBA season would be a rough one. Their season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday was cancelled earlier in the day due to COVID-19 tracing that left them without the league minimum of eight player. The NBA also ruled that James Harden would be unavailable for the game due to violating league protocol surrounding the health and safety of players.

That would leave some of their big-name players such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Gordon off the court for at least 7-to-10 days to self-quarantine.

First-year head coach Stephen Silas had a total of nine players as Houston prepared to take on the Portland Trailblazers on Saturday night. But one thing that coach Silas knew he had was a chance as long as he had his former league MVP on the floor in James Harden.

“I’ve always kind of said throughout my career that there’s never an NBA game where there isn’t a moment where you’re just like wow, can’t believe that just happened,” said coach Silas speaking on the performance of Harden.

Although the Rockets (0-1) came up short against Portland (1-1) by a score of 128-126 in overtime, Harden did everything he could to make sure that Houston stayed competitive throughout the game. The NBA’s leading scorer last season finished the game with 44 points and 17 assists, while shooting 55% from the field, but felt like he could have done more to lead the team to a victory.

“It was alright,” Harden said after finishing his fourth career game with 40-plus points and at least 15 assists. “Too many turnovers, but other than that, first game playing 40-something minutes, I feel like my conditioning could be better obviously, but it was pretty solid.”

Houston also received a solid performance from off-season free agent acquisition Christian Wood who scored 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in his Rockets debut. Wood and Harden used a healthy dose of two-man half-court basketball to keep the Rockets close, but in the end Portland’s superstar shooting guard CJ McCollum was too much for Houston matching Harden’s game-high of 44 points hitting a career high nine three-pointers.

The Rockets will also be short-handed on Monday as they head into Denver to take on the Nuggets, but they expect to have all their players back on the court by practice on Wednesday and available for their home opener against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.